This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week, an international event for raising awareness and understanding of eating disorders, challenging stereotypes and stigmas. Eating disorders can have a devastating impact on the lives of sufferers and the people around them, and with eating disorders affecting 1.25 million people in the UK alone, I’m sure the cause is never too far from any of our hearts. Whether you’ve personally been affected, or you are close to somebody who has, it is especially important this week to focus our energies into raising awareness. Sadly, people with eating disorders often aren’t taken seriously, cared for, or treated properly by medical professionals (as is common with mental health disorders). This needs to change, because the sooner someone gets the treatment they need, the more likely they are to make a full and fast recovery. I believe that those who have suffered from eating disorders are in the best position to teach us, as a society, what we need to do to overcome this growing problem. Therefore I asked my client Amey Atkinson to share her views.
My Interview with Amey Atkinson
Q. Amey, what would you say is the most common misconception about eating disorders?
A. That you have to be underweight or have a BMI below a certain number. Eating disorders affect those of all different shapes and sizes and each person has a different genetic make up, so what might be underweight for one person may be completely normal for another.
Q. What was the best form of support you received/ are receiving during the process to recovery?
A. The best support I received was from my mum and nutritional therapist. My mum stuck by me through all my down days and gave me the best advice she could give to try and help me conquer my fears. My nutritional therapist helped me build a healthy relationship with food and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Q. If you were to explain your illness to someone who had no idea it existed, how would you summarise it?
A. The best way to describe the feelings associated with an eating disorder is isolation and frustration. I had an obsession with looking ‘perfect’ and my obsession led me to read into foods and their nutritional values to the point where I just didn’t know what to eat. I couldn’t socialise with my friends because going out for food filled me with panic. I felt hopeless.
Q. Do you think a lot needs to be done within the medical profession to improve support for eating disorders? How seriously is the lack of support from medical professionals affecting those in your situation?
A. I do feel like more needs to be done within the medical profession. The lack of support is causing more and more people to fall deeper into the eating disorder cycle. I don’t feel like GP’s and psychologists etc are able to deal with all of the side effects of an eating disorder. Helping to deal with the negative feelings towards food and teaching people about all the amazing benefits of food should be a priority. I feel the NHS could improve the help given to those with eating disorders by giving more access to nutritional therapists.
Q. How did a nutritional therapist fit into the process to recovery? What did you discover about yourself in those meetings?
A. I was struggling to overcome an eating disorder on my own for a couple of years before I decided to contact my nutritional therapist. I was at the stage where I knew I wanted to get better and feel better but I didn’t know how to. In my first meeting with my nutritional therapist I felt a genuine connection with her and finally felt like someone wanted to help me. In the first hour I learnt so much about the importance of food and left the meeting feeling excited for the future.
Q. What do you think is the main trigger for young girls suffering from eating disorders?
A. Social media and the diet culture we’re surrounded by. Social media displays ‘picture perfect’ men and women, making us feel like we have to look and feel a certain way. These unrealistic pictures are causing unhealthy relationships towards food, exercise and others around us. Not everyone has to be the same weight or wear the same clothes to be ‘perfect’.
Q. Do you feel that issues surrounding eating disorders should be taught and discussed in schools more?
A. Through my time at school I was constantly being told about how eating certain foods could make you gain weight, but I was never told about how under eating could also affect you. Schools are hard places to be and so creating a positive culture towards food and being different should definitely be encouraged.
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